How “The Bachelor” shapes our cultural view of love

Jerod Clark

“I came here looking for love.”

That’s the sentence I’ve come accustomed to hearing each week after the latest woman is eliminated from "The Bachelor." Like many men across the country, I’ve found myself involved in the drama of this reality dating show thanks to the fact that my wife watches it. While it began as simply background noise for me, I’ve now become interested in the details and stressed out by the conflict and drama.

While I can put aside some of the petty stupidity that comes along with reality television, I can’t shake how messed up the idea of love is with contestants on the show. I have to question how someone who claims they’re looking for true love can say, “Yes, the best way to find it is to go on a national game show where the prize is a marriage proposal.”

I think this is all an amplification of what the definition of love has become in society. Love has morphed into the need for attention with the side benefits of what love really is: a committed relationship. And in this quest for attention, many of these women are willing to throw out their standards for the pursuit love.

For example, in the journey for true love many of these women are willing to share a man - who they say they’re falling in love with - among lots of other women. Weekly, The Bachelor, Brad Womack, goes on dates with multiple ladies, which usually end in the pair making out. Along with that comes a profession from him to each woman of how special he thinks she is and how he could be falling for her. Notice he doesn’t say love. The women are okay with totally baring their souls to say they are in love only to get that lukewarm response. The show is what it is, but you can see the pain in these women who say they’re falling in love with this man but are realizing he’s having a relationship with several others.

Throughout the show, which will have its season finale on March 14, I keep hoping for a voice of reason. Someone who would remind these contestants what’s really going on. A couple of weeks ago, Womack traveled to meet the families of the four finalists. I thought surely some parent would question what’s really happening. Yet parent after parent gave their blessings for a proposal if their daughter is the one chosen. None asked their daughter, “Are you really in love and ready to marry a guy who’s currently having relationships with three other women and can’t decide which one to propose to?” None of them questioned Womack in the same way - at least it wasn’t shown.

I can hear people responding to this by saying, don’t watch the show. But I think in many ways there’s a need to be an active viewer to understand where culture is in terms of interpreting love. And if you understand that view of love, you can better serve the friends around you who are in a situation of trying to find a mate. I’m not fully convinced the local church is doing a good job of providing a real interpretation of love, so people are turning to things like "The Bachelor" instead. For the millions of people watching, "The Bachelor" is shaping our cultural view of love. It’s saying you have to compete for love. Plus you have to not be yourself and do things you normally wouldn’t to prove you’re worthy of love. Where’s the sacrifice? Where is the pursuit of true love over fictionalized romance? And what happens once the show’s over?

You never really get to see what it’s like for the women who get kicked off the show. Being on "The Bachelor" is a crazy lifestyle. Dates include traveling the world to exotic locations, going on endless shopping sprees, performing on stage with Cirque du Soleil and having a whole carnival set up just for you. Once that’s gone, what are you left with when you’re back at home forced into finding a normal relationship? I hope there’s the realization of the difference between being given attention and being genuinely romanced.

I’m guessing the above scenario is the case for some of the women who leave "The Bachelor." But history shows others get the fame and attention they’re trying to find. They pop up in other places in the media realm. And some, who have a dramatic enough story, actually come back as "The Bachelorette" to try to find love again. They love the attention they get. But it’s not a fairy-tale ending for those who have “won” "The Bachelor" over the years either. After the cameras are off and the elaborate dates are done, very few of the couples actually end up married. Once the real courtship begins, the thrill that comes from getting all the attention is gone. Then the search for love starts again. My hope is it doesn’t get blurred with the need for attention the next time around.

(Photo courtesy of ABC.)

Topics: TV, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Entertainment, Home & Family, Marriage, Dating & Singleness